AKRON — Let us tip our caps to the Carousel Dinner Theatre for trying to make the most diehard Indians fans feel better, what with this season of high anticipation going down the drain.
The Akron theater has taken the devilishly hilarious 1950s musical comedy “Damn Yankees,” and incorporated the Cleveland Indians into the story, instead of the Washington Senators.
The original version of “Damn Yankees” follows a fan of the Senators, who sells his soul to the devil so his team can defeat the New York Yankees and win it all.
Even with the show’s original version, Indians fans worldwide can identify with the fan, Joe Hardy. He, like many Tribe fans, is a long-suffering, devoted follower of his team who is ready to try just about anything to produce a winner.
But who among us in the Cleveland area care about the Washington Senators?
With that in mind, Carousel’s staff sought to create an “Exclusive Version” for Indians fans.
Unfortunately, the final product gives little more than a nod to the Tribe. Yes, the players wear Indians uniforms, logos of The Indians appear on stage and characters shout “Go Tribe!” But just like this year’s Cleveland Indians have fallen short of sportswriters and fans expectations, this version of “Damn Yankees” fails to deliver on the hype surrounding it.
Consider Carousel Artistic Director Sean Cercone’s notes in the program: “This production has taken the original version of ‘Damn Yankees’ and spun it to reflect the story of the 1958 Indians.”
This version of the script hardly reflects the story of that year’s tribe. While the characters’ names have been changed to reflect that year’s squad, there is little to no inside information about the 58’ team, and Tribe lore is next to nonexistent.
Cercone claims Carousel’s team “created a production that is fun for those who are not familiar with Tribe lore and our devout Tribe fans will be able to find a deeper resonance in the story.”
Carousel’s “Damn Yankees” fails to achieve that balance; the feeling here is the production disproportionately favors “those who are not familiar with Tribe lore.”
Why even choose the 1958 Indians?
“We chose this year because it was one of the last years that Cleveland had an exciting team before the terrible 35-year drought.”
But, Long suffering Indians fans can identify most with fellow fans who’ve been starving for a world series win as long as they have. The last Indians championship came in 1948 — just 10 years before 1958. Carousel would have done better by incorporating a more recent Indians team into the production — perhaps, even this year’s squad.
None of this suggests there are no merits to “Damn Yankees,” in its original incarnation. The devil’s delicious humor and antics satisfies, there’s enough baseball to indulge fans of the game and the story carries a message one can apply to life in general: You never really appreciate what you have until it’s no longer there. One of “Damn Yankees’ songs, “A Man Doesn’t Know,” expresses this message in a tone a bit too sentimental.
The musical numbers also include the sultry, steamy “Whatever Lola Wants,” the angry “Six Months Out of Every Year,” the upbeat “Shoeless Joe From Hannibal MO,” and the encouraging “Heart.”
The production Carousel has created for Indians fans retains all of the show’s original songs. Some of them could have been replaced with music more reflective of today’s Indians. Sportscasters have said this year’s team has plenty of “Heart”; if anything, the players aren’t hitting the ball because they’re trying too hard.
Another song, “Who’s Got the Pain,” does nothing to advance the plot or accomplish much else; it doesn’t even belong in the original version of “Damn Yankees, and is as replaceable as the Indians’ worst hitter.
The Carousel cast doesn’t quite hit a home run, but is for the most part effective.
During Saturday night’s performance, Mark David Kaplan was particularly potent as the devil, in the form of Mr. Applegate, a man who claims to hold the key to the Indians success. He captured the character’s slick, smooth-talking and thoroughly confident manner. His wide-eyed, sly smiling Applegate was unpredictable and never dull.
Ashlee Fife wasn’t quite seductive enough as the devil’s assistant, Lola. The character, at one point, transforms into "Señorita Lolita Banana" and needs to have a sexy Hispanic accent. Fife’s accent came and went.
Lola pretends she is the sexy "Señorita Lolita Banana" in an effort to seduce the young baseball star Joe Hardy (an unpretentious Nathaniel Shaw) and keep him from exercising an escape clause to revert back to Joe Boyd. In the musical, Applegate transformed Boyd into Hardy to give the Indians the player that would put them over the top
Boyd is played by Jerry Coyle, who sang “Goodbye Old Girl” too loudly and without tenderness.
Jan Leigh Herndon played Boyd’s “sports widow” of a wife with a hint of anger as well as self-pity.
It’s easy to fall into self-pity if you’re an Indians fan these days; almost 60 years have passed since the Tribe claimed a World Series title.
How can we transform them back to a championship team?
The devil’s in the details.